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Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch
Directed by David Lynch

Airdate: 25 June, 2017

Author's Note: This and all subsequent reviews of Twin Peaks: The Return episodes will freely give away details from the episode at hand, and all those preceding it. The spoiler-averse should back away slowly.

There's just not a damn thing you can do to prepare for Part 8 of Twin Peaks: The Return. Like Episode 29 of the original series run, only without the niceness imposed upon it by network standards & practices, it exists as much to blow up everything that went before as to build upon it. It's not unprecedented; point in fact, it feels very much like David Lynch wanted to make his very own version of The Tree of Life, which in retrospect seems inevitable. Lynch and Terrence Malick are more alike than it would seem at first glance. They are perhaps the two living American filmmakers most immediately concerned with the meditative capacity of cinema: Lynch, of course, is a major proponent of transcendental meditation, and the deeper I go into The Return the more I'm confident that this fact informs the desperately slow pace of so many of his scenes. The sweeping scene in Part 7 is, I think, an especially clear example of this: the most dully quotidian activity imaginable, played in such exhaustively long-winded detail that we have virtually no choice as viewers but to lapse into a meditative state, where we are more conscious of perceiving movement with our eyes, and translating that movement into denotative shapes with our brains, than we are of the actual fact that a man is sweeping the floor (or we could fast-forward, which is cheating, plain and simple).

Malick, for his part, cares mostly about the ability of art to trigger spiritual reverie, and in this respect we can think of him and Lynch as mirrors and Part 8 as the yin to The Tree of Life's yang, in a pretty much literal sense of what yin and yang mean - darkness and light. in The Tree of Life, we watch the creation of goodness - through sorrow and struggle, but goodness nonetheless. In Part 8, we watch the creation of evil, and its manifestation in the world, and perhaps we also see an attempt to create something good to counterbalance it. I rather suppose that trying to go all-in on decoding Part 8's more overtly symbolic elements. before all 18 episodes have aired, is the work of an idiot - a brave idiot, maybe, but an idiot nonetheless.

Regardless of that, the feeling of evil entering the world hangs heavy over Part 8, even before it enters the massive flashback that is, in honesty, the reason we all care. The moment when venal little idiot Ray (George Griffith) sees all those black-clad figures appear is nothing if not the intrusion of embodied evil into a normal world - I mean, Ray is a bad guy and all, but a bad guy who thought he was just a brute in a nasty-minded crime thriller, and now discovers that he's a pawn in a cosmic horror story. The images of the woodsmen clambering around the bleeding body of Evil Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) have the quality of something invading and corrupting the show itself: a mess of transparent figures, bleeding into each other so messily that it's hard to figure out where they're all standing, or if they're moving through each other. And it's jump cutting all around; nothing says "the internal destruction of audio-visual media" quite as effectively as a jump cut.

Heck, even before that, we've got all those winding night roads, all pregnant with horrible potential.

But anyway, the flashback is the obvious star of the show. Largely filmed in contrasty black-and-white by Peter Deming, it's the most beautiful work of The Return thus far, and a strong contender for the most beautiful material in Lynch's career. The whole thing, with its digital sleekness, feels a bit like the opposite number of the ugly, chunky digital cinematography in INLAND EMPIRE (on which Deming worked, credited as "additional lighting technician" under Lynch-the-cinematographer). But it's not just beautiful: there's an oppressive quality to it, most vividly noticeable in the shots of the convenience store, which in black and white feels like a rinky-dink model set up in the New Mexico wastelands in a parody of human habitation. And I am also very partial to the blinding white of the cigarette hanging on the lip of the primary woodsman (Robert Broski), so piercingly bright in the black-and-gray frame that it seems to be luminescent, giving that little twist of the impossible and unearthly to an already inhuman character.

That's all once the flashback has settled down and turned into something largely explicable as a narrative, when we see that favorite Lynchian chestnut, the Horrible Violation of the So-Called "Innocence (Ha!) of the Eisenhower Era. And a horrible violation it is, too: the most unpleasantly violent deaths in the series thus far, I'd say, as much because of how they work with the sound design. That slow, steady crack of the DJ's (Cullen Douglas) skull as the woodsman repeats his chant over and over again in a buzzing, metallic voice, punctuated at the end by splashes of blood, jet-black in the monochromatic cinematography - that's genuinely upsetting, right up there with the brutality of the murder in Episode 14 of the original series, less feral but perhaps, because of its overt artistic qualities, more appalling.

Even then, it doesn't take that much: the overwhelming night of this sequence is horrifying enough even without the explicit horror of the murders, or the beetle-frog that crawls into the sleeping girl's (Tikaeni Faircrest) mouth (it's her swallow afterward that drives it from "creepy" to "soul-wracking creepy", for me). And that's with, I think, the creature being good? Again, it doesn't pay to speculate before all the evidence is in, but I do believe that's how the good beings of the White Lodge send the pure spirit of Laura Palmer down to Earth, yes? And on that front, a nod to how well the show is able to switch tracks, emotionally: the scene in which the giant (Carel Struycken) exudes golden light to create the orb that contains Laura's essence, while a woman apparently named SeΓ±orita Dido (Joy Nash) watches with rapt pleasure, is for my money every bit as uplifting and beautiful as the rest of the episode is grueling and dark. The music, a somber but beautiful vocal piece, helps push this feeling to the fore even more than Nash's ecstatic expressions do.

In the main, though, this is all about a feeling of painful, all-encompassing dread that starts as we plunge into the very center of the cloud over the Trinity bomb test, while Krzysztof Penderecki's "Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima" starts to crawl its path across the soundtrack, wailing tunelessly. And then we enter the realm of pure experimental film, as the slow-motion beauty of the horrifying destruction keeps giving way to spatters of white spots on black and grainy shots of nothing discernible. It's more abstract than The Tree of Life, less abstract than the stargate journey in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and regardless of that, can we just pause in admiration that a relatively mainstream entertainment - I mean, self-selecting crowd of art film lovers or not, it was financed by a corporation and you can watch it on TV, it's not like we're all gathered in the basement of MoMA to see this - should be this casual about exposing an audience to avant-garde filmmaking? Better yet, that it should bring in the avant-garde in the service of telling an actual story? For there is story here: how evil came into the world, brought there by men happily creating the all-destructive force that would hang over the rest of the 20th Century. And that is a story that The Return can only put across by breaking itself into the smallest component pieces of light and dark, sound and silence. It's not the most aggressive piece of experimental media art ever, obviously, but it's still the finest hour of Twin Peaks till now, and I see no reason to assume it won't stay that way, just as much as I see no reason to expect that any episode of television or theatrically-released motion picture will top this in all of 2017.

Grade: A+